TUCSON, Ariz. – It couldn't be accidental. No way. Not when big, bad Bobby Jenks, baseball's equivalent to a Hollywood wild child gone straight, gets placed next to the locker in the Chicago White Sox's clubhouse that says, in a big, bold nameplate: LOST AND FOUND.
There is some meaning to it, even if it doesn't immediately dawn on Jenks. He is still big, certainly, 275 pounds, give or take a dozen, hauled around on a 6-foot-3 frame that's sturdy like a German car. And he is indeed bad, a goatee – three inches long, a peroxide dip away from being as blond as it gets – jutting downward.
Lost? Oh, yeah, though you know that story. Drank a lot. Lit his skin on fire. All the stuff he's addressed and all the stuff that, with time and success, becomes nothing more than a footnote.
So for now, unless Jenks reverts, render it just that, because his journey to being found is enough to stand by itself. He is 27 years old, one of the best closers in baseball and last season, as the White Sox flopped, tied a major-league record that had held strong for 35 seasons.
From July 17 through Aug. 12, Jenks threw 14 consecutive perfect innings. Think about that. In the modern era, 15 starting pitchers have thrown perfect games. Jenks threw one and a half.
"It was a perfect month," he said. "Anything can go wrong on the baseball field. It's so amazing I didn't flip a curveball and hit somebody in the back or that there wasn't an error or a dropped strike three."
And amazing, too, that the kid whom the Los Angeles Angels deemed a lost cause would be the one to do it.
Tired of his antics, the Angels cut Jenks in 2005. The White Sox rescued him, in love with a fastball that consistently hit triple digits and a disappearing curveball. He moved quickly, and somehow, in his first season, ended up as Chicago's closer entering the postseason.
By the end, he was a hero, the first rookie to close out a World Series. Manager Ozzie Guillen would motion for him in the bullpen by spreading his arms wide and puffing his cheeks – he wanted the big boy – and White Sox fans would go nuts, their hero in strength and equal in girth ready to lock down another game.
Then came Jenks' first full season, when hitters modified their approaches against him and he did nothing to change his.
"I was cruising along," Jenks said. "Made the All-Star team. The hitters started expecting for me to throw it by them, and I jumped up to a 4.00 ERA. You've got to make adjustments.
"That's the thing. Right now, I'm becoming a better baseball player by learning how to pitch. That's what I accomplished last year."
He started studying scouting reports religiously with pitching coach Don Cooper. Jenks learned tendencies. He worshipped the outside corner. And over a 14-game stretch, he put all of it into practice – to perfection.
He retired future Hall of Famers (Ichiro Suzuki, Frank Thomas, Ivan Rodriguez) and young stars (Grady Sizemore, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia). He recorded outs from around the globe: Julio Lugo (Dominican Republic), Hideki Matsui (Japan), Yuniesky Betancourt (Cuba), Matt Stairs (Canada), Magglio Ordonez (Venezuela) and Gary Sheffield (Planet Sheff).
And, three times, Jenks got poor Mike Hessman.
Jenks threw 96 strikes in 146 pitches. Fifteen outs came via ground ball, 14 from flyballs, 11 on strikeouts and two more on a double-play lineout, having inherited a man on base. Though Jenks recorded 42 outs, he was credited with 41 batters retired, tying Jim Barr's record.
Jenks' biggest fear is slap hitters going to the opposite field and, of course, Kansas City's Joey Gathright came up with sole possession of the record on the line. Base hit, left field.
It ended there, rather anonymously as pennant races heated up elsewhere. Jenks celebrated, knowing now that he could get by on a 95-mph fastball that he could locate instead of a 103-mph dart that hit more 2s than treble 20s.
Though, he likes to note, "It's always there in case I need it."
His bullpen mates can attest. To pass the time, Jenks is fond of throwing things, and he doesn't hesitate to wind up.
"You have to watch out with him," White Sox left-hander Matt Thornton said. "Flying objects all the time. It keeps him entertained and it keeps us entertained. Bobby is just a big kid."
That part of him, Jenks hopes, will never go away. He chases his son and daughter around the clubhouse, or whichever of his teammates' kids are hanging around, and it's a rather scary sight, 275 pounds of goateed mischievousness on the move.
"Back when I was with the Angels, I'm not going to get into it, but I was a kid," Jenks said. "I was immature. And that's the biggest part of your game. You need to grow up."
And that, it seems, is complete. Bobby Jenks found himself just in time.
- Bobby Jenks